Tag Archives: Ebola

The Apocalypticon ~ Politics, Kavanaugh, climate, poison, Ebola, rat hepatitis, flu, NZ law


Kavanaugh’s family listens at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing (Image: Jim Bourg, Reuters)

German far right party now at second — In last September’s elections, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) became the first far-right party to win seats in the Bundestag in more than half a century, becoming the official opposition to Merkel’s ruling ‘grand coalition’ of conservatives and social democrats. Although — or precisely because — the AfD is treated as a pariah in the legislature, its support is growing among German voters. Now it’s in second place with 18% of the vote. [They only need to double that to be where Hitler was when he took power.]
Beer-swilling misogynist Kavanaugh requires millions — Since July, when President Trump nominated Kavanaugh, the warring advocacy groups have spent some $10 million on TV ads either assailing or praising him.
Facebook consternation at Kavanaugh support — Hundreds of Facebook employees have reportedly expressed anger that an executive attended Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s public hearing last week to support him. Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s head of global policy, was at Kavanaugh’s hearing because he is reportedly close friends with the Supreme Court Justice nominee …

Sagging climate — Never drink from the tap: Americans across the country, from Maynard’s home in rural Appalachia to urban areas like Flint, Michigan, or Compton, California, are facing a lack of clean, reliable drinking water. At the heart of the problem is a water system in crisis: ageing, crumbling infrastructure and a lack of funds to pay for upgrading it.
Indonesian tsunami warning system hadn’t worked for years — After an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia on Friday left more than 800 people dead, a spokesperson for the nation’s board of national disaster affairs revealed that a critical part of its warning and detection system hasn’t been working for years. Not one of 22 buoys was functional…

Poison — The red tide algae bloom that’s plagued Florida’s Gulf Coast for months has now jumped east to the Atlantic. Florida officials are dubbing it an “extremely rare” occurrence, underscoring just how far from over the state’s algae crisis is.
Old poisons could kill most orcas — A group of industrial chemicals humans started banning decades ago could cause many of the world’s orca whale populations to collapse over the next century, an alarming new study has found.
Artificial sweeteners become toxic in the gut — Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore tested the toxicity of aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k. They observed that when exposed to only 1 milligram per millilitre of the artificial sweeteners, the bacteria found in the digestive system became toxic.

Ebola could spread beyond Congo — More than two months since an Ebola outbreak was declared in an eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, health officials are still struggling to end it. At least 130 people have been infected. Last week the World Health Organization declared the risk has gone from “high” to “very high” that the disease will spread to other parts of the country and to neighbouring countries.
Rat hepatitis migrated to a human — A 56-year-old man from Hong Kong contracted the rat-specific version of hepatitis E, something never observed before in a human patient. Health officials are now scrambling to understand how this could have happened — and the possible implications.
US had more flu deaths last winter than in decades — This past winter’s flu season was quickly recognised as one of the worst to come along in a long time. But new data from the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention highlights just destructive it was in the United States. According to new data, there were 80,000 flu-related deaths last season, the single highest toll seen in at least four decades.

New Zealand enacts digital search border control law — The Customs and Excise Act 2018 now in effect sets guidelines around how Customs can carry out ‘digital strip-searches.’ Previously, NZ Customs could stop anyone at the border and demand to see their electronic devices. However, the law did not specify that people had to also provide a password. The updated law makes clear that travelers must provide access, whether that be a password, pin-code or fingerprint, but officials would need to have a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.
Customs spokesperson Terry Brown said. If people refused to comply, they could be fined up to $5000 and their device would be seized and forensically searched. Mr Brown said the law struck the “delicate balance” between a person’s right to privacy and Customs’ law enforcement responsibilities. [Yeah, that’s delicate all right!] Council for Civil Liberties spokesperson Thomas Beagle said the law was an unjustified invasion of privacy. [Because, you know, it’s an unjustified invasion of privacy.]

And in good news … it’s spring here in New Zealand and it’s beautiful.

 

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The Apocalypticon ~ Capitalism over, data, disease, climate, guns, funs and hell


How many days do Americans waste commuting? Too many! (Red is the worst, at 56-77 days!)

Another week, another slew of terrors — Capitalism as we know it is over, or so suggests a new report commissioned by a group of scientists appointed by the UN Secretary-General. [Bull, you say? Maybe we’re just over capitalism.] Climate change and species extinctions are accelerating even as societies are experiencing rising inequality, unemployment, slow economic growth, rising debt levels, and impotent governments. [I’m starting to wish I lived in uninteresting times.]
Just to get you in the mood: 9 movies about AI becoming self aware and killing us.

Talking about data — The voting records of some 14.8 million Texas residents were left exposed online and eventually got discovered by a data breach hunter in New Zealand. [Gotta love the ’net.]
MacAfee’s ‘unhackable’ storage was … hacked. Yep, computer programmer John McAfee released “the world’s first un-hackable storage for cryptocurrency & digital assets”, a US$120 device called the Bitfi wallet, that McAfee claimed contained no software or storage. McAfee was so sure of its security that it launched with a bug bounty inviting researchers to try and hack the wallet in return for a $250,000 award. Lo and behold, a researcher by the name of Andrew Tierney managed to hack the wallet, but … Bitfi declined to pay out!
Facebook and the Myanmar genocide — Facebook announced it has banned several members of the Myanmar military and organisations that were named by the United Nations as complicit in the genocide. Way too slowly to do any good, of course.
LinkedIn spying — The United States’ top spy catcher said Chinese espionage agencies are using fake LinkedIn accounts to try to recruit Americans with access to government and commercial secrets, and the company should shut them down. [How will this look on your resumé?]
India’s biometric database is creating a perfect surveillance state — And US tech companies are helping.
What’s Crap? Is OK, I will tell you: WhatsApp users on Android will be able to back up their messages to Google Drive for free and it won’t count towards Google Drive storage quotas … yay! But, as WhatsApp warns, those messages will no longer be protected by end-to-end encryption. Boo.
Trump spits Google dummy — President Trump says Google search results for ‘Trump News’ show only negative coverage about him. [Jeeze, can’t work out why … must be a plot.] A few hours later, Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the administration is “taking a look” at whether Google and its search engine should be regulated by the government. [Lol. Yeah, that’s exactly what Goebbels would have wanted.]

How many days do Americans waste commuting?  Educated Driver used Census Bureau data on average daily roundtrip commute times in hundreds of cities across the US to calculate how much time Americans spend traveling to and from work over the course of their lives, assuming a 45-year career working 250 days a year.
Speaking of Americans, who got Cohen’s $50-thou? Cohen seems to have been a very busy boy, with legal documents showing he made a $US50,000 ($68,560) payment to an unidentified “technology company during and in connection with the campaign.” The unknown payment suggests Cohen may have been doing more for Trump, and for the Trump campaign, than simply paying off people Trump had been bonking on the side.
Amid mounting acrimony with NATO, Russia’s military has announced plans to hold its “biggest exercises since 1981.” The country’s defence ministry says the massive exercise will involve some 300,000 Russian troops, more than 1000 aircraft plus the participation of some Chinese and Mongolian units.

On health — In a dangerous twist to Ebola, outbreaks are starting to crop up in distant areas. It could already be the worst outbreak to date.
Store-bought chicken could be causing UTIs — A new study published in mBio suggest urinary tract infections could be coming from Escherichia coli bacteria transmitted via poultry.
China withholds flu data — For over a year, the Chinese government has withheld lab samples of a rapidly evolving influenza virus from scientists in the United States. Specimens are needed to develop vaccines and treatments, according to federal health officials talking to The New York Times.
Pollution sapping our nutrients — According to new research, rising carbon dioxide levels will sap some of the nutrients from our crops and lead to dietary deficiencies in millions of humans. In 2014, field trials of common food crops including wheat, rice, corn and soybeans showed that as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased, the levels of iron, zinc and protein decreased in the dietary staples by 3 to 17%. This could have a big impact in poorer nations.

Climate — We’re living in hell. The image above, created by NASA’s Earth Observatory, has red representing soot, purple showing dust, and blue for sea salt. Central Africa is awash in smoke from farmers clearing land for crops. And those little glowing specks across China, the eastern US, India and Europe are cities where air pollution from cars and buildings is strong enough to create a clear signal to satellites.
Air pollution is making us stupid — Air pollution causes a ‘huge’ reduction in intelligence, according to new research, indicating that the damage to society of toxic air is far deeper than the well-known impacts on physical health. [Ah, weren’t we stupid to create air pollution in the first place?] High pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education.
Japan to get a ‘most powerful’ storm — A dangerous super typhoon currently packing 274km/h winds could make landfall in Japan shortly. [Jebi nights.]
Sea level rise may seem like a far-off threat — But a growing number of new studies, including one out this week, shows that real estate markets have already started responding to increased flooding risks by reducing prices of vulnerable homes. [Aw, sucks to be you, right?]

On the lighter side — Police officers in Paraguay found that at least 42 of their battle rifles had been stolen from their armoury and replaced with toy replicas. It’s unclear if a flag with the word BANG! written on it popped out of the barrels.
Adopting Mediterranean diet in old age can prolong life, a new study suggests. The diet is typically said to be rich in fish, nuts, fresh vegetables, olive oil and fruit. [So that’s my secret?]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Water absorption by the human body happens pretty fast – within five minutes of entering your mouth, it’s starting to filter into your bloodstream, with peak absorption hitting at around 20 minutes – but water at body temperature is absorbed more slowly than cold water, in case you were wondering why we instinctively prefer cooler water when we’re thirsty. “

The Apocalypticon ~ China and isms and Trump, battle bots, mugshot extorters, working deaths, Ebola, bums, book excerpt


Trump completely flip-flops for Chinese company — US President Donald Trump has made a big fuss out of economic competition with China. He’s even threatened a trade war! But suddenly he came out to bat for the Chinese smartphone manufacturer ZTE, which basically ceased to exist after the US Department of Commerce slapped it with a seven-year ban on buying or using components from US companies over allegations it violated sanctions on Iran and North Korea. The reason that Shenzen-based ZTE was forced to suspend most of its operations in the first place was because the Trump administration accused it of violating the sanctions on North Korea and Iran. So this is a massive reversal of both official US policy and Trump’s own talking points, seemingly at a whim and with no clear indication of whether the president got anything in return. [Oh yeah, that doesn’t sound like collusion …]
Chinese company to dispense with drivers attractiveness ratings of passengers. [No, really!] China’s ride-sharing behemoth Didi is trying to make its platform safer for users after a 21-year-old woman was allegedly murdered by one of its drivers. For starters, its carpooling service, Hitch, will no longer let drivers and passengers rate and tag the appearances of each other. Drivers have reportedly given female passengers tags like ‘long legs,’ ‘adorable girl,’ ‘goddesses,’ and ‘beauties’ … [So, welcome to the end of the last century, China.]
China fudging its GDP — China, Russia and other authoritarian countries inflate their official GDP figures by anywhere from 15 to 30% in a given year, according to a new analysis of a quarter-century of satellite data. The working paper, by Luis R. Martinez of the University of Chicago, also found that authoritarian regimes are especially likely to artificially boost their gross domestic product numbers in the years before elections, and that the differences in GDP reporting between authoritarian and non-authoritarian countries can’t be explained by structural factors such as urbanisation, composition of the economy or access to electricity. Martinez’s findings are derived from a novel data source: satellite imagery that tracks changes in the level of nighttime lighting within and between countries over time. [Gosh … (feigns surprise).]

Battle bots evolve — Chomp looks like a regular BattleBot on the outside, but inside there’s a secret trick: Artificial intelligence. This killer attack is called Auto-Chomp and it blew audiences away back in 2016, Chomp’s debut season on BattleBots. The feature then represented an AI-powered BattleBot on a basic level, as the weapon was automated but didn’t necessarily think for itself. Now, Chomp is getting smarter, and BattleBots as we know it could be evolving in a fascinating way.
[You know, ‘fascinating’ in that it might one day outwit and kill us.]

The alleged owners of Mugshots.com have been charged and arrested — These four men Sahar Sarid, Kishore Vidya Bhavnanie, Thomas Keesee, and David Usdan only removed a person’s mugshot from the site if this individual paid a “de-publishing” fee, according to the California Attorney General on Wednesday. That’s apparently considered extortion. [I apparently also consider extortion to be extortion.]

Bird scooters ruining Venice, California — The first Bird electric scooters appeared in Venice and there, the flock is thickest. Bird’s founder and CEO, Travis VanderZanden, says, “We won”t be happy till there are more Birds than cars.” Aside from road safety, Bird is also tearing away at the fabric of society. In Venice and Santa Monica, where Bird is centralised, thousands of people live on the streets, which helps explain the scooter’s popularity. With a press of a throttle button, one can be whizzing along, leaving it all in a blur. Bird calls this solving the “first/last mile” problem. So now, to walk through Venice is to understand that human misery exists just outside the frame of your Instagram feed [Ouch, Nate.]

Working harder physically leads to earlier death — Researchers in the Netherlands claim that a “physical activity paradox” exists, where exercise may only be good for you if it’s done outside of your job. Manual labourers may be physically active all day but that doesn’t actually help them. In fact, the research claims it might actually increase their risk of dying early. “While we know leisure-time physical activity is good for you, we found that occupational physical activity has an 18% increased risk of early mortality for men,” says Pieter Coenen, public health researcher at UV University medical centre in Amsterdam. “These men are dying earlier than those who are not physically active in their occupation.” [Really, that took hard research to figure out?]

Ebola is back, this time in an urban area — This is really scary. Ebola has once again resurfaced. Today, the World Health Organisation reported that there have been at least 34 suspected cases of the viral disease and 18 deaths since early April in the Bikoro District of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). But Ebola’s resurgence, hardly unexpected, can’t help but bring a question to mind: Why haven’t we found a surefire way to cure or prevent it yet?

On a more positive note, here’s why we have bums.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: Apart from the act of killing something, butchery is an unforgiving science – if you get it wrong, the meat becomes corrupted from ruptured intestines. Then any ‘good’ meat may have to be hung, cured, parts cooked immediately … it’s a very far cry from picking up a vacuum pack or a chicken from the supermarket. 

Futurology 14 ~ Mimas, Saturn, ancient comet, Mars, Solar Civ, Sun, Tesla, Ebola, life-raft, Cheerios, ash, Titanic


Comets from the Oort cloud are both ancient and rare. This one will bathe Mars in its light tail
Comets from the Oort cloud are both ancient and rare. This one will bathe Mars in its light tail

Mimas might have a subterranean ocean — It’s not the prettiest thing in the solar system, but Mimas — a pockmarked moon in orbit around Saturn — exhibits an odd wobble. A team of astronomers reckon there are two possible explanations: a subterranean ocean or it has an irregularly shaped core. Another Saturn moon looks frighteningly like a wasp nest
~ I vote we call the underground sea ‘Marcel M’.

Ancient comet will bathe Mars in light — Our Monday, something historical will happen: An ancient rare comet will arrive to Mars after millions of years travelling at 53km/s from the Oort cloud. It will look like you can see at this link, passing to within just a third of the distance from Earth to the moon and engulfing the Red Planet in its large tail.
~ Mars Bath.

Dark Matter sends a signal for the Sun — Astronomers from Leicester University have detected a strange signal in the X-ray spectrum that appears to be a signature of ‘axions’ — a hypothetical dark matter particle. It could take years to confirm, but this may be the first direct detection and identification of dark matter.
~ Scientists think it exists but they can’t prove it. It’s like the National Party’s conscience.

White House seeks advice on ‘Bootstrapping A Solar System Civilisation’ — The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is planning ahead — way ahead. The agency wants you to email ideas for how “the Administration, the private sector, philanthropists, the research community and storytellers” can develop “massless” space exploration and a robust civilization beyond Earth.
~ It will end up ‘Let the market run it’, no doubt.

Mystery space ship lands on Earth after record time away — America’s spy space drone the X-37B has landed safely after a record-setting orbit of 675 days. The fact that this spacecraft has been in orbit for almost two years and has returned to Earth intact is an amazing technological feat, apparently.
~ It’s amazing? The Moon stays up there all by itself. 

Tesla S has iPhone 6 supplier internals — Well, sort of: the Tesla Model S gets attention because it’s an EV that can go from from 0 to 96kph in 4.2 seconds and can travel 265 miles on a single charge. But, a teardown of the vehicle by IHS Technology has also revealed that Elon Musk went for two 1.4Ghz, quad-core NVIDIA Tegra processors. IHS called the Tesla’s head unit the most sophisticated it’s ever seen, with 1000 more components than any it has previously analysed.
~ Now for the drivers …

Ebola robots — US robotics researchers from around the country are collaborating to build autonomous vehicles that could deliver food and medicine, and telepresence robots that could safely decontaminate equipment and help bury victims of Ebola.
~ Minimise contact – and then remote-sterilise the robots, too. 

Tipping rescue raft makes it easier to pull people from the water — Water rescues can be particularly tricky because you’re on the exact opposite of stable ground while you’re trying to pull someone to safety. But getting enough leverage to pull a heavy body out of the water looks a little easier with this clever inflatable raft that can be tipped backwards for easier access to the water, without that whole sinking issue.
~ And it’s back-packable.

Cheerios inside bags grow new Antifungals — Scientists grew a soil fungus for four weeks in a bag full of Cheerios and discovered a new compound that can block biofilm formation by an infectious yeast. The chemists claim that Cheerios are by far the best in the cereal aisle at growing chemically productive fungi.
~ So why am I not surprised?

Cigarette ash water filters — Among the long, long list of reasons why we shouldn’t smoke lies cigarette ash: it’s an unsavoury chemical cocktail that also happens to be a major eyesore around any popular smoking spot. But thanks to a team of chemists, we could use that same cocktail of horrific chemical to make water clean.
~ And it tastes like …?

A single breakthrough could cut costs on solar energy by 25% — Costs on solar are coming down steeply, and now they’re about to get even cheaper. A group of chemists at Ohio State University has invented a solar panel that stores energy without an external battery. The self-contained tuner/capacitor panels are already being licensed to industry.
~ We welcome the forthcoming Epic of Solarmesh.

New pictures of Titanic launch have emerged — There’s a new exhibition at an Irish museum showcasing previously unpublished sepia-tinged photos of the ill-fated Titanic as it’s being launched to sea. The goose-bump inducing images show the luxury liner as it’s going down the Belfast shipyard’s slipway, along with excited spectators cheering on.
~ 117 prints in all! 

Futurology 12 ~ Seafloor, gravity, antiparticle, solar, coal, water-torch, Ebola


Blackout Buddy H2O’s shelf-stable magnesium-oxide battery remains inert until water kickstarts the chemical reaction that provides electricity to the three white LED bulbs
Blackout Buddy H2O’s shelf-stable magnesium-oxide battery remains inert until water kickstarts the chemical reaction that provides electricity to the three white LED bulbs

More accurate seafloor maps thanks to satellites — Using data from satellites that measure variations in Earth’s gravitational field, researchers have found a new and more accurate way to map the sea floor. The improved resolution has already allowed them to identify previously hidden features including thousands of extinct volcanoes more than 1000 meters tall, as well as piece together some lingering uncertainties in Earth’s ancient history.
~ It’s triumph of multiple pings. 

So much ice gone,  Earth’s gravity has been affected — The European Space Agency has been measuring gravity for four years, mapping variations and recording the changes those variations have undergone. Its data indicates “a significant decrease [in gravity] in the region of Antarctica where land ice is melting fastest.
~ They thought that only happened in oil barons’ Pina Coladas.

A particle that’s also its own antiparticle — In 1937, an Italian physicist predicted the existence of a single, stable particle that could be both matter and antimatter. Nearly 80 years later, a Princeton University research team has actually found it.
~ They should call it the Mussolini Particle — both the agent of change and its now  destruction.

Ultrasmall organic laser — Researchers have made the tiniest organic laser reported so far: an 8-micrometer-long, 440-nanometer-wide device which looks like a suspended bridge riddled with holes. It’s carved into a silicon chip coated with an organic dye. Integrated into microprocessors, such tiny lasers could one day speed up computers by shuttling data using light rather than electrons.
~ The light at the end of the chipset.

Mesh solar cell is also a battery —Researchers at Ohio State have announced a breakthrough in solar energy technology that stands to revolutionise the industry. It’s a mesh solar cell that also stores electricity. The new hybrid device runs on light and oxygen, storing electricity with the help of a simple chemical reaction. The best part is that it brings down the cost of a standard solar cell by 25%.
~ Cheaper is better, so we’re less subject to the power monopolies.

World’s first clean coal commercial plant just opened In Canada — Canada has switched on its Boundary Dam Carbon-Dioxide Capture and Storage (CCS) Project. In is now the only country on Earth with a commercial-scale, coal-fired power plant capable of harvesting its own CO2 and sulfur dioxide emissions.
~ Coal that eats itself.

Tiny emergency torch glows for 72 hours after you add water — Batteries have a limited shelf life, so any torch you’ve been saving for an emergency might not actually work when you need it. But these tiny emergency lights from Eton simply need you to add water to keep them lit for three full days. They cost US$10 each (main picture).
~ Water torch – yeah! 

Ebola vaccine delay may be due to an Intellectual Property dispute — For the past six weeks, about 800 to 1000 doses of an experimental ebola vaccine have been sitting in a Canadian laboratory instead of being dispensed to West Africa. The delay, it would now appear, may be on account of an intellectual property spat.
~ I am SO disgusted by this!